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The Congress Working Committee has authorised All India Congress Committee president Rahul Gandhi to forge both pre-poll and post-poll alliances for the general elections slated for 2019.

This may lead to the formation of a grand alliance of various regional parties under one umbrella. The parties that choose to form the grand alliance may not necessarily have a common ideology but are likely to come together to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It is well known that forming a mahagatbandhan is a serious challenge in terms of bringing together warring parties and then ensuring they stay together.

In the context of the upcoming national elections, Rahul Gandhi faces a two-fold challenge. The first is to strengthen the Congress in areas where it retains a strong base and exists either as the ruling party or the principal Opposition. These areas include Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh Punjab, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, and Northeast states.

Second, the Gandhi scion has to lead the discussions and negotiations to form a mahagatbandhan to take on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Rahul has time and again proved that he has all elements in his personality required to take on the challenge.

He is making concerted efforts to change the working culture of the Congress. The way he reorganised the CWC, striking a balance between young energy and experience of the old guard, has won the Congress chief appreciation from political analysts and commentators.

Rahul Gandhi seems to be a good listener and this quality may help him in the process of negotiations. His negotiation skills will come under the scanner when he tries to strike a deal with other parties in states where the Congress is not seen as a major player and also in places where the party expects a greater share of seats to contest while leaving space for coalition partners to contest.

He will have to deal with seasoned and astute politicians such as Sharad Pawar, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee.

He will also have to satisfy people from his own party in the process of seat sharing while at the same time ensuring he doesn’t leave alliance partners miffed. The political maturity that he has gained over the years will be tested now.

The Congress leader has already shown in Karnataka his ability to make sacrifices to respond to the challenge posed by the BJP.

But his biggest challenge would be to assert Congress strength on the negotiation table.

Rahul Gandhi has been a victim of negative propaganda spread against him on social media. He will have to work hard to challenge that image as he sets out to work on the modalities of the mahagatbandhan.

His opponents are working overtime to malign and discredit him as a serious contender for the Prime Minister’s chair.

The Congress president carries the burden of charges that he is a privileged beneficiary of dynastic politics with the political mantle of the Nehru-Gandhi parivar being handed over to him rather easily.

In order to prove his credentials as a leader concerned and connected with the common man, Rahul Gandhi has had to highlight his concern for the peasants, poor, tribals and subaltern. He has been consistently raising the issues of the subaltern.

It will be interesting to see how far Rahul is able to change his image during the election campaign. He has already stopped being defensive making aggressive attacks on the Narendra Modi government, calling it a regime working only for the elite and powerful.

This image of an aggressive leader may help him when he starts to hunt for allies and sits down to discuss the terms of coalition with them.

The Congress doesn’t enjoy the luxury of time. The party should start the process of forging alliances soon.

BADRI NARAYAN*

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